Monday, July 11, 2011

Closer to It

Like the last couple of Springs here in Georgia, this one got hot fast. By early June, it seemed like we were as hot as we'd be in July. When you opened your car door, waves of canned heat smacked you in the face. The pavement shimmered in the glaring sunlight. The only thing saving us from being all brown and dusty by now were some well scattered showers and a better than usual accumulation of rain in March and April.

It wasn't like June 2004, our first full summer in the Deep South, when it rained so much we pretended we were living in England as we spent mornings indoors, having tea and watching The Secret Garden and Hope and Glory over and over until we had the dialog and accents down pat. That was a glorious year for the garden and the mosquitoes. What we didn't realize was that those June rains portended a new phenomena for us. Hurricanes.

Coming from the Midwest, we'd endured blizzards, deep freezes and withering heat waves. We'd even run through hail in our bare feet as tornado sirens blasted in our ears, but hurricanes were new to us. We rode out Hurricane Ivan with a mix of excited curiosity as it swept up from the Gulf Coast and rain-soaked and wind-blasted even us, tucked up into the Northwest Georgia pine forest.

A couple of days later, we named a litter of kittens after the Hurricanes. Frances, Ivan, Charlie and the non-hurricane inspired Morris. They were born on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend and we thought those fitting name for those babies of a stray we'd taken in. Their mama kitty McGuffy, had squeezed her thick, pregnant body into the crack between the wall and our youngest daughter's bed when it was time to have her babies.

Morris, the last to be born, is a yellow, long haired tabby who turned out to be a very large cat with a penchant for peeing where he shouldn't. We still have Morris and, though he'd never earn an academic scholarship to Kitty University, he's likable enough and the children love him. I'd like to ring his maned neck for his bad habits, but mostly, I love him, too. The ill-mannered oaf.

But I was telling you about the weather. It was really, really hot here. And then, a couple of days ago, we got a break from the searing heat and dripping humidity. No longer was driving in my un-air-conditioned car a draining chore.

Now I could ride with all the windows down and the sunroof open and not feel like I'd just run a marathon. Where before I'd felt all hot and sticky and crabby from the open air drive, now I felt a sense of openness and closeness with the outer world. When the air-conditioning worked, I would ride with my windows sealed tight, the outside world banished as I tooled along in my hermetically-sealed existence.

When people ask Southerners and Southwesterners "How do you stand the heat?" and we answer "I go from air-conditioned house, to air-conditioned car, to air-conditioned workplace," we are not kidding.

Spring and Summer and a good block of Fall in warmer climes means never really breathing in the fresh air if you can help it. If you're even slightly asthmatic, it could trigger an attack. Even if you're not afflicted, you may find the boiled afternoon air to be hard to breathe.

So the last couple of days, we've flung open the windows and enjoyed the fresh air. Driving on the freeway, I'm inundated with the smells and sounds of traffic. The large trucks make a terrible racket as I glide past them. Sometimes there are cars, with the music so loud and obnoxious, that I wish for a semi to come and drown out the throbbing noise. Even the morning traffic jam is nicer as I sit in the far left lane and listen to the tall, dry grasses rustle and whisper alongside the idling vehicles.

But when I get out into the country, closer to home, I'm treated to the sounds of birds carried on the wind and the smell of flowers lining the roadsides and dotting the fields. And, of course because it is the country, the occasional whiff of death emanating from some unseen animal corpse hidden in tall weeds or silage or worse, the smell from the factory chicken farm.

At home, we've shut off the central air and opened the windows, as well. Now as I sit writing, I can listen to the clicking of birds on the large, swing-arm feeder. I can hear the bluejay and tufted titmouse knocking the sunflower seed against the wooden feeder's edge to get at the meat inside. I hear the flapping of wings as the female cardinal takes flight, startled by the arrival of a male, and I eavesdrop on the quiet conversation between the male and female house finch as they take turns keeping watch as the other pecks about in the feeder.

The other day I noticed that when a male cardinal is eating, he doesn't mind if other bird species come along and join him. But if a female or another male cardinal lands, there is a bit of a scuffle before only one is left to eat. The mockingbirds, for their part, engage in rowdy chases, making a pinched noise as they fly at each other. The male redwinged blackbird, solitary and friendless, screeches loudly just as he lands to eat. No one, but no one, is allowed to join him on the feeder.

The swing arm feeder is positioned right outside the window to my left. Around it grows an unruly Chinese wisteria that loops and dangles. The birds have developed a queuing system of landing on the drooping vines to await their turn in the flat, wooden feeder. This works well for the sparrows and finches who blithely alight and hang on as the wisteria bounces to a stop, mid-air. Sometimes, though, a larger bird like a cardinal will try to land on the vines and they and the vine will dip down, down, down closer to the ground. Quickly, I hear wings beating as the surprised bird jumps to the safety of the air, leaving the wisteria boing-boinging up and down like snapped elastic.

Last evening, drowning out the sounds of the birds as they settled down for the night, were the noises of our neighbors' barky dogs. In front of us, the German Shepard dogs were having a growly conversation about something exciting. Next door, the Australian Shepard and his companion were debating something in loud woofs and an occasional bay. Beyond them, the little dogs, a rag-tag band of chihuahuas and rat terriers, were carrying on in their squeaky yips and yaps.

I wondered if Sasquatch was strolling through the neighborhood again. Then there was a crescendo of yelps and yaps and barks and then nothing except the occasional soft note from the wind chimes.

This morning, I've been treated to the good morning sounds of the wild birds and the er-e-er-e-eeeerrrrr of the penned roosters down the road. The occasional red-winged blackbird screams out as it prepares to dine at the feeder and there are crickets adding a low background noise. Large bees hover and glance at me through the screen. I'm relieved that they are out there and I am in here.

The male cats, Tiger and Pyewacket, exchange a territorial hissing and yowling through the glass of the back door. A sleeping child, who apparently stayed up late watching a movie last night, stretches on the sofa, breathes deeply and turns over for more sleep. The curtains framing the large front window shimmy on the breeze, as the sun and clouds try to agree on how hot it's going to be today.

I like being closer to it.

Originally posted June 21, 2008


  1. That. Was lovely. Welcome back.

  2. Thank you, Sue J! Welcome back to you. Now you can shout about PoliTits again!


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